Indict the war criminals


“Let this man Bush be impeached and cleansed from office for the lies he has told. These are not innocent lies. The dead remember.”


William Rivers Pitt; New York; June3, 2003


Since George W. Bush came to power, he has systematically flouted international agreements that the US had previously signed up to. While previous US administrations might not be able to claim much better records, it is clear that Bush is not even making an attempt to stick to these numerous treaties, laws and obligations.


It is clear that those who were kidnapped from Afghanistan and Pakistan by US forces qualify as prisoners of war within the meaning of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, and therefore have all the rights of prisoners of war within the meaning of that convention. Right now, all those rights are being denied. This is a serious war crime.


Apart from the scandalous activities of the Bush administration, several other government leaders currently also face charges of war crimes and violations of international law. The following is a summarized account of the various lawsuits that have been filed against Tony Blair, George Bush, Jose Maria Aznar, Ariel Sharon, and Shimon Peres respectively:


On Monday 29 July 2003, lawyers from the Athens Bar Council in Greece filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague against senior UK officials, in an attempt to indict Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior members of the UK government and military for allegedly breaching international law by attacking Iraq. The ICC was established last year with the purpose of trying cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.


The lawyers have compiled a dossier of “strong evidence” against the officials including more than 20 alleged war crimes, which includes the killing of Iraqi civilians, depriving the population of drinking water in cities such as Basra, the destruction of food supplies and the bombardment of residential areas. The allegations are based on dozens of reports about the conflict, printed in newspapers and broadcast on television. The case also intends to call innumerable international witnesses, including the UN secretary general Kofi Annan, the former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, and the European commission president, Romano Prodi.


As human rights organizations continue to raise concerns about appalling conditions at Guantanamo Bay and the unclear legal status of detainees, a Pakistani man who was imprisoned by America at Guantanamo Bay is preparing to sue the US Government for $10.4m. Mohammed Sagheer was released last November after 10 months in captivity alongside around 600 other inmates. On being handed to the American authorities he says he was deprived of food, forbidden to pray and made to shave off his beard.


Mohammed Ikram Chaudhry, the lawyer of Mohammed Sagheer, has served legal notice on 10 July 2003 to the U.S. authorities and will sue if they do not respond within a month. He believes his client’s mental health had been affected during his captivity. Another Pakistani released from the notorious camp in Cuba said in May 2003 that most of the 600-plus prisoners still held there on suspicion of ‘Al-Qaeda’ links had become mentally disturbed.


German attorneys on 20 May 2003, registered a claim against US President George W. Bush in the General Office of the Public Prosecutor in Germany. In addition to Bush, the claim includes members of the German and British governments, who are all alleged to be in violation of international law in launching the war in Iraq.  Registration of this claim became possible by new legislation adopted in Germany last year, where courts of the country can consider cases connected with violations of international law even in situations where the violation doesn’t concern Germany directly.


On 02 April 2003 a broad coalition of anti-war activists, lawyers and judges took legal action against Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, charging that his support for the US-led war on Iraq is illegal. The Culture Against the War group, together with the Free Association of Lawyers and two groups called Judges for Democracy and Magistrates for Democracy, filed the complaints before the Supreme Court.


On 12 February 2003 Belgian’s highest appeals court (Cour de Cassation) ruled that Ariel Sharon can be tried once he ceases to be prime minister, regardless of whether he is in Belgium or not. It also cleared the way for war crimes trials against Israeli General Amos Yaron (currently Defense Ministry director-general and former commander of the Israeli invasion forces in Beirut), former chief of staff Rafael Eitan and Major General (res.) Amir Drori.


The Belgian court ruling is a landmark ruling, because it marks the end of a period of more than fifty years when Israel was permitted to stand above international law and Israeli perpetrators of war crimes could expect impunity. The fact that Israel é in line with its policy of exempting itself from all international law enforcement mechanisms é has never made a commitment to accept advisory rulings issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) might effectively prevent the Israeli government from seeking redress with the ICJ.


The case was first lodged in Belgium on 18 June 2001 by 28 survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres charging Ariel Sharon, as well as other Israelis and Lebanese, with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Building on the evolving principles and mechanisms of universal jurisdiction, the petitioners demanded that those responsible for the massacres committed between 16-18 September 1982 in the two refugee camps in Beirut be brought to justice in Belgium, especially since an Israeli investigation committee (Kahan Commission, 1983) had found then Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon “indirectly responsible” but failed to bring legal charges against him.


On 3 September 2002, Ms Sasha Evans instituted action against Mr. Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister of the State of Israel, through the High Court of South Africa (Witwatersrand Local Division) for payment of R10 135 000,000 (SA Rands), during Peres’ visit to South Africa.


The action was taken on the grounds that in the period September 1997 to December 2001 Evans was resident and employed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, during which time she was severely traumatised as a direct result of witnessing the uncivilized, illegal, violent, brutal, forceful and inhuman actions of the Israeli occupation army which, inter alia, took the form of illegal, forceful and unlawful demolition of homes and businesses: arbitrary arrest and detention for indeterminate periods, torture and physical violence in detention with withholding of water; collective punishment imposed on entire communities of her fellow Palestinians coupled with blockades, curfews, denial of access to medical/hospital treatment; denial of the right to freedom of movement, return and association: refusal of access to places of employment and worship; closure of places of learning; and denial of other human rights, including: shelling from fighter jets, tanks and helicopter gunships of civilian areas including schools, hospitals and especially refugee camps, and illegally withholding revenues legally due to the Palestinian Authority, thereby preventing the said Authority from providing the basic services required in Palestine, including the areas where Evans resided.